A book shared means so many things, a meaningful gesture of affection. On BBC Radio 4 today (I am an inveterate Radio 4 listener – when I’m home), the Woman’s Hour Programme discussed ‘a book that has changed your life’, and warmed up with the questions: what are the best books you both received and gave for Christmas?
Starting at the end, the book that changed my own life is impossible to identify as a single tome. Both ‘none’ and ‘many’ is the unsatisfactory answer. The closest I can get is the long, unhurried day (I must have gone into a second day) one weekend in my early twenties, spent utterly absorbed in Doris Lessing’s classic, powerful account of female liberation The Golden Notebook (1962). It was almost too painful to read in parts, but it commanded attention, provoked thought, the description intense and sensual.
This Christmas, I enjoyed Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, and, a fan of biography and autobiography (probably because I’m nosey), enjoyed most of all Rose Tremain’s memoir Scenes from a Vanished Life, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. A second-world ‘war baby’, Tremain lived through that extraordinary time of post-war life that saw people in western countries, and in many ways women in particular, transition through a remarkable slice of social history. The book sees her only into adulthood, but that allows for detail. I wondered what had made this elegant, thoughtful novelist. There is limited insight into that here, but it is a fascinating – and occasionally shocking – read nonetheless.
My son, having read 1984 at school, wanted the works of George Orwell, including the writer’s collected journalism and essays. Is my boy mature enough for them, or is he keener on the idea of having them on his shelf? We’ll see. If he does not read them yet, then the time will come. Just as I bought my children what I considered to be ‘important’ books when they were small (my son still mentions ideas and images from Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, for example), so I want to continue gifting these, and was only too happy to meet my son’s request. My daughter… Well, I cannot make her love reading, but finding books that will engage her (it has proven possible – sometimes!) is its own challenge.
Is there a richer gift than a book?
International Book Giving Day will be with us before too long (on 14 February). Its aim is to ‘To get books into the hands of as many children as possible’; however, I don’t see why this book giving celebration should not extend to adults as well. Rather than foil-wrapped chocolates, I’m going to be thinking about the books I want to buy for those close to me.
What’s the best book you’ve ever given to – or shared – with someone?